Parliament's recognition of the Ainu was in a nonbinding resolution. It created an eight-member committee to recommend further steps the government should take, but only one of the panel's members, Tadashi Kato, is Ainu.
Many Ainu doubt the government will officially apologize -- as Australia and Canada did recently to their native populations for past policies -- pay compensation or grant access to land for hunting or fishing.
"Japan is behind other nations in this way, even though it claims to be an advanced economic power," said Kato, executive director of the Ainu Assn. of Hokkaido.
"Being indigenous can't be cut off from issues related to the land," he said in an interview, but he added that the committee probably would first study how to improve living conditions and promote education.
Japanese textbooks say little about the Ainu beyond their skirmishes with the Japanese in the 1600s and 1700s. Sakai says her eastern Hokkaido school taught her nothing about her people.
The Ainu language has no written form and experts estimate only 10 to 20 native speakers are left. But there now are 14 small Ainu-language classes in Hokkaido.
Sakai renewed her childhood interest in traditional Ainu dance, but was sometimes bored with it because most of the other dancers were older. After graduating from college, she decided young Ainu needed a new way to express themselves, and the result was the Ainu Rebels, formed two years ago.
She hopes the group's performances will foster self-confidence in the young generation of Ainu and inform mainstream Japanese of her culture.